informed publications far from and scarcely noted by the US political-media establishment.
Today in the Ukraine, the CIA-trained, Kiev-regime secret police, the much-feared SBU, is summoning Ukrainian Orthodox bishops one by one to its headquarters for ‘a conversation’. The old KGB techniques and torture chambers may be used again, in case the bishops decide not to go over to the Phanariot schism. Ex-Patriarch Bartholomew will have blood on his hands, just like the US and the EU, which first created the bloody coup and bankrupt regime, which is propped up in Kiev by IMF (= US) money.
However, apart from in the Ukraine, the fact that the three million-strong Patriarchate of Constantinople under financial pressure (the $25 million dollars paid to it by the US administration) has broken away from the 164 million-strong Russian Orthodox Church has had little effect in the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe. But in the Diaspora there is a huge effect. Virtually every day we pastors are confronted with the catastrophic consequences: Where can I go to church and take communion now?
Russian, English and other Orthodox who used to rely on the many Greek Churches can no longer receive the sacraments there and are looking for alternatives. In England a whole ex-Russian, now Constantinople, convent/monastery has fallen away from the Church and is now out of communion with us. Conscious, non-phyletist and spiritually free Orthodox do not want to be in communion with the anathematized and defrocked former KGB Denisenko, in an affair of corruption.
Two priests and hundreds of people have already left Constantinople, but far more want to leave. They would leave, but they have nowhere near to go: they need new parishes, using the Orthodox calendar and also new buildings. And here we see all the consequences of historic incompetence, laziness and pastoral neglect of the flock. The decades of refusal by the Russian Church to meet the needs of the faithful in the past (‘they can go to the Greeks’) sound even more inadequate today.
There are those who need to stop persecuting pastors and support us. It is time to stop the attachment to a very few small if splendid church-buildings and pay attention to souls. It is all very well to say that the Russian Orthodox faithful are not to attend churches of the schismatic Patriarchate of Constantinople, but quite another to provide them with alternative churches and care. Here, just in the White Russian East of England, we need nine more priests, as we have been calling out for all this time, ignored.
Actions speak louder than words. The failures of the diplomats of the Church in Moscow, who preferred to celebrate in Phanariot churches instead of in ours, are clear. However, they can be made up for now by at last showing faithfulness and setting up the infrastructure of the network of churches which we neglected pastors in the Diaspora have been struggling unaided to set up for so many decades. Europe, the Americas, Oceania and so many worldwide await. Old sins do indeed cast long shadows….
Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?
Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.
Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.
No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.
This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Kiev, Odessa, Podgorica, Sofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”
Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:
‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’
In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for Ukraine, Kurt Volker.
There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.
[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]
This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.
That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.
…and the Payoff
On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.
The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:
‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.
‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.
‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.
‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.
‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.
‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘
Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).
Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:
As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”
To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.
Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.
Parroting the words of the Russophobic Brzezhinzki school of string-pullers in Washington, President Poroshenko has declared that with autocephaly granted to the Ukraine ‘one of the basic geopolitical problems of the world has been solved’, adding that: ‘This is the fall of the Third Rome as the concept of Moscow having world domination’ and that autocephaly is ‘part of our pro-European strategy’ and ‘the basis for the path of development of our State and our nation’. Clearly Poroshenko, a Jew by his father and who has been seen on one occasion taking communion from the Uniats, believes in the Neo-Nazi chant of his extremists, who, instead of the traditional greeting ‘Glory to Jesus Christ’ uses: ‘Glory to the Ukraine’. In other words, he lives in a world of illusions and xenophobic lies.
In reality, the Ukrainian affair was ordered by the scared US State Department, which has used its puppet fantasist Patriarch Bartholomew to carry out its plan. The latter wanted petty revenge for the failure of his Crete junket, but in fact he has had to cut off his nose to spite his face. This marks a very positive turning point. It marks an end to the dalliance of those in the Russian Church who cultivated the dangerous Phanariot illusions of apostasy, secularism, modernism, ecumenism and venality, illusions of an Orthodoxy for show. Now Moscow has to wake up from the illusions of ‘Church diplomacy’. Now at last the tiny group in Moscow concerned can stop playing with the World Council of Churches, the Vatican and the Phanar and start being the Third Rome. We have waited for so long.
Assuming the destiny of the Russian Orthodox Church, all can now tell the Truth. After all, it is not diplomacy that sets us free, but the Truth that sets us free, and the Church is the last bastion of the Truth in this world of illusions. This means that the paralysis is at last ending. Some in Moscow weakly allowed the Phanar to interfere in the Russian Diaspora in Paris, then, much more recently, in the Ukrainian Diaspora, then in Estonia, then in the Sourozh Diocese, now at last they are waking up. We who have been abandoned for so long by the Third Rome, all the while defending it, can at last be heard. The Orthodox world can now be reconfigured – providing that the Russian Church acts responsibly, in concert with the Twelve Disciples, the other Local Churches, as the Third Rome.
I can recall nearly 40 years ago how Fr Alexei Kniazev, the rector of the St Sergius Institute in Paris, told us seminarists how he went to Constantinople in 1966 and put the question directly to Patriarch Athenagoras: ‘So are you the Oecumenical Patriarch or are you just a petty Balkan bishop?’ He never received an answer, except between the lines, and so soon after tried to join the Moscow Patriarchate – which irresponsibly rejected him. So today we ask that Moscow assumes once more the role of the Third Rome. In this matter it is not the Russian Church that is the servant of the Russian State, it is the Russian State that is the servant of the Russian Church. For the Russian Church is not Russian, but God’s, as the Church does not belong to Russia, but Russia belongs to the Church.
Let us recall how all this came about:
In 1948 the freemason and notorious atomic mass murderer, Truman, obsessed with the unchallenged power of having the only weapons of mass destruction in the world, decided to take over the Patriarchate of Constantinople. His gangsters removed the Patriarch Maximos V and duly installed his fellow-mason Archbishop Athenagoras as Patriarch. In the same year Truman set up the World Council of Churches as a Pan-Protestant propaganda tool. The Local Orthodox Churches in capitalist countries were humiliatingly forced to join it. In 1961 the Ukrainian tyrant and atheist Khushchov forced the Russian Church and other Local Churches in socialist countries to join it, thinking that he could both finally finish off the Churches by 1980 and at the same time undermine the Americans.
In reply, the US State Department soon organized the Second Vatican Council and successfully protestantized the Vatican’s worldwide operation, their greatest following success being to enable the CIA to have the Polish Cardinal Wojtyla elected in order to undermine the Soviet Empire. When that Empire did duly collapse and its countries became the vassals of the ‘Truman Doctrine’, Washington declared itself the victor, briefly assuming world hegemony and ‘the end of history’. Of course, such nonsense did not match reality. The attempt to secularize and so enslave the Orthodox Church could never succeed, as it had with the Protestant and Catholic denominations. The Body of Christ cannot be enslaved by the world, because the Holy Spirit inhabits Her and transfigures Her.
Of course, the devil had tried to enslave the Church. In the 1920s he used his slave, the British freemason Patriarch Meletios Metaksakis (elected with £100,000 of Anglican money channelled through the British State), to set up a ‘Pan-Orthodox Conference’. In 1923 this imposed the Western calendar on its slaves. However, this was not enough. In 1961 Patriarch Athenagoras reactivized this ‘Conciliar’ process and in 1977 Patriarch Dimitrios nearly concluded it, but was sabotaged by St Justin (Popovich). It took nearly another forty years for the next apostate puppet in the Phanar, a graduate of the Gregorian University in Rome, to set up a ‘Council’ in Crete in 2016. However, the free Orthodox world boycotted it, as just another attempt to secularize the Church, ignoring its dogmas and canons.
Now that the Church is free from the apostatic deadwood of the Truman Doctrine of US world supremacy, including over the Church of God, we can at last move forward. Ignoring the arrogant ignorance of primitive Muscovite nationalists, the Russian Church and State can now assume the burden of the Third Rome, for none now can doubt that the Second Rome is well and truly fallen and that ‘a fourth Rome there will not be’. Let us forget the expensive mascarades of diplomacy, for they have utterly failed. Only the Russian Orthodox Church, supported by Russian Orthodox statesmen, can hold the world back from its end, whither it rushes like a suicidal lemming. The Third Rome, the Patriarchate of Holy Rus, stands Risen from the Crucifixion of Atheism and we await its saving words of the Resurrection.
Now we have to be an example to all those who seek salvation, but do not know how to get there. Russia was destined to be an ark of salvation for the many peoples and has no other meaning. If it does not do this beneath the standard of Christ – no other standard will do – it will disappear from the face of the earth and then the whole world will end. Noah’s Ark is here, ready for the flood of fire that hangs over the planet. We await only its captain, the coming Tsar, who will take up the mantle of the Tsar-Martyr, the great benefactor of World Orthodoxy, reformer and builder of churches from New York to Nice, Patron of all the Local Churches. Then all the apostates and traitors will have the opportunity to repent, even at this eleventh hour. We await the Council of New Jerusalem, outside Moscow, to enlighten the world according to the Light of Christ and not to the darkness of men.
Just as the then tiny First Rome fell ingloriously in 1054, so now 964 years later, in 2018 the tiny Second Rome has also fallen ingloriously. For this is the historic meaning of the Phanariot decision to interfere in the canonical territory of the Russian Mother-Church, on US orders. As Metr Hilarion of Volokalamsk precisely predicted at the time in May 2016, the Phanariots would take their petty revenge in the Ukraine for the Third Rome’s refusal to support the heresies that Constantinople was peddling in Crete in 2016.
Now having taken on the notorious Ukrainian schismatics, including the defrocked and married Soviet-American ‘Patriarch’, Filaret Denisenko, and another Ukrainian group, run by the Canadian and US secret services, it means that the Phanar has finally lost its way after a century of anti-canonical errors. It all began with the hubris of power-seeking and flock-grabbing, followed by ecumenism and the new calendar, now it has ended in canonical ignominy. On Monday 15 October the Third Rome will make its judgement.
Already Archbishop Kliment (Vecherya) has called on all to discuss the possibility of anathematizing their Patriarch. We can only pray that this elderly man may yet repent for his insanity and foolishness. However, whatever happens, the Phanariot decision now clears the air. With several hundred thousand modernists and semi-Uniats who support the anticanonical Phanariots gone from the Church, it leaves some 217 million Orthodox to get on with Orthodoxy and at long last dissolve the logjam caused by the Phanar.
Despite the danger of persecution of the canonical Church in the Ukraine, now we can at last expect progress on relations between the Local Churches, the internal issue of the Diaspora, especially in the USA, but also in Western Europe and Oceania, on a century of Phanariot interference in the Russian and Ukrainian Diaspora, as also in Estonia. We can also expect progress on the external issue of the heresies of the Roman Catholic/Protestant world. We are breathing a sigh of relief. We can now go on unshackled and unhampered by deference and diplomacy to the spiritually and politically bankrupt.
In part, this is because it involves matters of faith and church governance, the importance of which many people, especially some of a secular mind who scorn mere “religion,” tend to underestimate.
That is a mistake, certainly with respect to the storm that seems on the verge of plunging Ukraine into a new cycle of violence. That may happen if, as seems quite possible, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople recognizes an “autocephalous” (completely self-ruling) Orthodox Church in Ukraine over the objections of the Russian Orthodox Church, of which the Ukrainian Church is an integral part.
This question is often misreported in the Western media as Constantinople’s response to a request from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for autocephaly. This is inaccurate. The only Ukrainian Orthodox body recognized as canonical by the rest of the Orthodox Christian world – even including Constantinople at this point – is the autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church under the authority of Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev, which is not asking for autocephaly.
So who is making such a request? People who have no authority to do so. This means first of all Ukrainian politicians, starting with President Petro Poroshenko (whose own Orthodox affiliation is subject to question), who evidently calculates that midwifing an independent Ukrainian national church completely divorced from Russia will enhance his re-election prospects next year. Not to be outdone, his rival, Yulia Tymoshenkoalso is in favor. These proponents of autocephaly are explicit that their goals are political. “Shortly, we will have an independent Ukrainian church as part of an independent Ukraine. This will create a spiritual independence from Russia,” Poroshenko told the Washington Post.
Also asking for autocephaly is so-called “Patriarch Filaret” Denysenko and his supposed Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the “Kiev Patriarchate,” which is recognized as canonical by exactly nobody. Denysenko, who was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1997, hopes that will change soon. Patriarch Bartholomew has dispatched to Ukraine two envoys (“exarchs”), one each from the US and Canada, to meet with Denysenko, possibly even to consecrate his “bishops” to give them supposedly valid status.
Unfortunately, there is also involvement from another direction by people whose agenda is entirely political. Western governments see a geopolitical opportunity in exacerbating an ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine and pitting Constantinople against Moscow. Doing so, they believe, will undermine Russia’s geopolitical “soft power” through the Orthodox Church and further alienate Russians and Ukrainians from one another.
As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College, “The real goal of the quest for autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow. ”
The Western proponents are as crassly honest about the political aspects as the Ukrainian politicians. The German ambassador in Kiev, not known to have any particular theological acuity, opined in July, that autocephaly would strengthen Ukrainian statehood. The hyper-establishment Atlantic Council, which hosted Denysenko on a recent visit to Washington, notes: “With the Russian Orthodox Church as the last source of Putin’s soft power now gone, Ukraine’s movement out of Russia’s orbit is irreversible.”
Likewise the US State Department, after a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal church matter,” last week reversed its position and issued a formal statement: “The United States respects the ability of Ukraine’s Orthodox religious leaders and followers to pursue autocephaly according to their beliefs. We respect the Ecumenical Patriarch as a voice of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.”
While avoiding a direct call for autocephaly, the statement gives the unmistakable impression of such endorsement, which is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” The State Department’s praise for the Ecumenical Patriarchate reinforces that clearly intended impression.
There may be more to the State Department’s position than meets the eye, however. According to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox archdiocese (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government is aware of the theft of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from the budget for the construction of the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in New York (This is explained further below).
The warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.
Again, it must be emphasized that this report is unconfirmed, though one doesn’t see mainstream American media falling over themselves trying to track down the facts. The official statement of the Greek archdiocese does not report a personal one-on-one meeting between Pompeo and Archbishop Demetrios, but the message could have been communicated between subordinate personnel on both sides.
What lends the report an air of believability, however, is the depth of the scandal to which it refers. As few outside the Orthodox Christian community may recall, only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed on September 11, 2001, and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed in the attack. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. The humble little church reportedly housed icons and relics donated to the parish by Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II, none of which were recovered.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed to the effort. A major role was played by the archdiocesan women’s organization, the Ladies Philoptochos, who undertook it as a “sacred mission”: “Together let us rebuild Saint Nicholas for all future generations, and for the many millions of people who will visit every year the new World Trade Center, the National September 11 Memorial Museum and our National Shrine, the only house of worship at Ground Zero.” By the end of 2017, almost $37 million had been raised and construction on this unique Orthodox Christian presence was proceeding apace.
Then – poof! – in December 2017 suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds. Resumption would require on-hand an estimated $2 million. Despite the archdiocese calling in an audit by a major accounting firm, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating. There have been calls for Archbishop Demetrios’s resignation.
This is where we get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Fener district. Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches), the financial lifeline is Greeks (including this writer) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.
That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to this writer’s sources. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine. It’s an open question how much the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s shaking down the Greeks in the US to pay for extravagant boondoggles like the 2016 “Council” contributed to the financial mess at the New York archdiocese, which in turn may have opened them up to pressure from the State Department to get moving on Ukraine.
Finally, while the Ukraine controversy does largely involve politicians’ agendas and a struggle for supremacy between Constantinople and Moscow, it is not entirely devoid of moral and spiritual significance. It should be noted that among the most ardent nominally Orthodox advocates of Ukrainian autocephaly are groups of American academics like the purveyors of moral and sexual LGBT and “genderqueer” ideology “Orthodoxy in Dialogue” and the hardly less revolutionary “Orthodox Christian Studies Center” at New York’s Fordham University.
Orthodoxy in Dialogue recently issued a call – accompanied by a pairing of an Orthodox cross with LGBT rainbow symbolism – to bishops in all US Orthodox jurisdictions to curtail their anti-abortion witness and adopt the immoral sexual agendas that have wrought havoc in the Western confessions, a call that should receive a sharp condemnation from the hierarchs.
No one – and certainly not this writer – should accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the fake patriarch Denysenko of sympathizing with such anti-Orthodox values. But the converse is not true. These advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.
This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay”marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Kiev, Odessa, Podgorica, Sofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such “European values.”
Ukrainians especially need to ask themselves why Western governments are so happy to cheer on developments that could plunge the Orthodox Church into worldwide schism, and Ukraine into another round of fratricidal violence. The unedifying behind-the-scenes machinations, many details of which remain under wraps, should give them further pause.